WASHINGTON -- From 2000 to 2010, the number of Americans who consider themselves multiracial grew faster than those who self-identify as a single race, with the largest gains coming in the once racially segregated South and among those who identify as both white and black, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.
Those identifying with multiple races grew by 32 percent over the decade, for a total of 9 million. Single-race identifiers grew by just 9.2 percent, according to the 2010 Census, which also showed the slowest overall population growth rate since the Great Depression.
Ninety-two percent of those who reported being multiracial checked just two races on the Census questionnaire. Among the rest, 7.5 percent identified with three races and less than 1 percent reported four or more races.
The first constitutionally mandated decennial population count was conducted in 1790, but Americans weren't given the option to identify with more than one race until the 2000 Census. Although government officials expected significantly more people to check more than one box the second time around, the new analysis offers demographers their first crack at comparing changes in racial identification over time.
Americans answering the 2010 Census race question could choose among white, black, American Indian/Alaska Native, several Asian options, several Pacific Islander options, and "some other race."
Among the highlights of the 23-page report:
- The number of Americans who identify as both white and black soared by 134 percent, more than any other combination. Next was the white-and-Asian population, which increased by 87 percent.
- More than 1.5 million people identified as multiple-minority -- that is, they checked more than one box but not the box for white. Among them, the black-and-Asian population increased by 74 percent.
- Four multiracial groups exceeded 1 million people. The largest, at 1.8 million, was white and black. Next largest, at 1.7 million, was white and "some other race" -- often the default choice for Hispanics. White and Asian was chosen by 1.6 million, and white and American Indian/Alaska Native by 1.4 million.
- The West has the largest number and highest percentage of individuals who reported more than one race. The Midwest had the lowest percentage of mixed-race people, while the Northeast had the lowest number. California, Texas and New York were the top three states for multiracial residents.
- Nine states saw a 70 percent or greater increase in their multiple-race population -- all but one of them, South Dakota, in the South as defined by the Census Bureau. South Carolina saw its multiracial population double, while North Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Mississippi all notched big gains.
- Among cities with at least 100,000 people, Honolulu had the highest proportion of residents reporting two or more races -- 16 percent. It also had the highest proportion who listed Asian, Native Hawaiian or "other Pacific Islander" among their races. Lansing, Mich., had the highest proportion of multiple-race blacks, while Anchorage, Alaska, had the highest proportion of multiple-race American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The Census data confirm what demographers have known for some time: The United States is becoming more diverse. Population experts say the numbers don't tell the whole story, however.
"The number of mixed-race Americans may have grown even more than the official statistics show," D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer at the Pew Research Center, told The Huffington Post in an email. She cited the Census Bureau's own acknowledgement that "the 2000 base [of multiracial Americans] was overstated by about 15 percent nationally, and thus the percentage change for people reporting more than one race could actually be higher."
Cohn noted that the growth has been widespread, with more than half of the nation's counties reporting increases of more than 50 percent. And that trend is expected to continue.
A February 2012 Pew Research report that used Census data showed the number of intermarriages has more than doubled since 1980, from 6.7 percent of new marriages then to 15 percent in 2010. It credited growing public acceptance of mixed-race relationships as one reason for the rise.
Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, noted that while overall mixed-race growth was 32 percent, the increase for adults was 22 percent while the increase for those under age 18 was 46 percent. "That highlights what's going on," he said. "With the prevalence of mixed-race couples, we’re getting faster growth among kids, and these children have multiple identities."
William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who focuses on race, said the number of people selecting more than one race would be even higher if "Hispanicity" were not treated as an ethnicity on the Census form.
According to the Census Bureau report, 6 percent of Americans of Hispanic origin in 2010 identified with two or more races. Among non-Hispanics, it was 2.3 percent. The Census Bureau recently stated that it was considering making "Hispanic" a separate category in a combined race-and-origin question.
Frey declared the "big news" out of the report to be the surge of people saying they are black and white, particularly in the South with its history of segregation.
"In the past, blacks were less likely to intermarry and identify as multiracial or interracial than some other ethnicities," said Frey. "It does show a greater willingness, especially in the South, for people to identify this way [even if] they may have had that lineage before."
Still, despite the opportunity to more fully claim one's racial heritage, the nation's most famous product of a mixed marriage isn't counted among the 9,009,073 who checked more than one box on the 2010 Census.
President Barack Obama, whose mother was a white woman from Kansas and whose father was a black man from Kenya, chose only the box marked "Black, African Am., or Negro."